In terms of producing some of the best creative around, two agencies consistently rank near the top: Goodby, Silverstein & Partners and Crispin Porter + Bogusky. They've not only managed to keep churning out consistently fresh work for clients like California Milk Processors Board and Burger King, but they've also changed the way they think by fully embracing digital and integrated campaigns. We had a roundtable discussion with two of their creative directors, Will McGinness at Goodby, who is also this year's One Show Interactive Jury Chair, and Jeff Benjamin at Crispin, who held that position two years ago, to try and find out the secret to their success and where interactive advertising is heading.
So what will it take to win a Gold Pencil at One Show Interactive this year?
WILL: I think like always, it's going to take a really smart idea, and that's one of the places where this category has started to mature. It's always been a category that's thrived on technical innovation and I feel like the ideas and communications and concepts are catching up in some respects. I don't know if there's a formula, but at the end of the day, it has to be a compelling idea that doesn't feel derivative and completely tapped out.
JEFF: I think if you look back at all the things that have won Gold Pencils, what's so special about the One Show is that somehow the judges have been able to find advertising solutions that, in that year, really pushed the industry forward. And it's not just innovative technology but innovative ideas as well. I remember there was a really great e-mail in one of the years that I judged, and we were thinking e-mail—that's such a stale medium, how can it get any better? And it was a car advertisement for Renault I think, and as you scrolled down the e-mail it counted from zero to 100, and it was such a genius idea. For me, it elevated the idea of what e-mail can be.
Have you seen any cool Websites over the past year that you thought were game changers? What do you anticipate seeing?
WILL: I think you'll continue to see this outward expansion of what interactive is. When the show first started, it was banners, microsites and Websites and it was very confined to a very few formats. And that's continued to expand and blur what's digital. At some point it might engulf everything where it becomes the nucleus for all these things—broadcast, console gaming, movies, television, out-of-home—and it just continues to expand and pull in different media.
JEFF: Yeah, nothing jumps out, but every year, nothing really jumps out until you're in a room full of judges and you're checking all the stuff out. There's so much cool stuff coming out of Japan and Brazil and the UK and Sweden that we don't really get a chance to be exposed to here in the US. And now when we come together and look at it, I'm sure we'll be surprised, and when the Gold winners are awarded, it will be stuff that will hopefully inspire the industry.
Over the past few years there was the rise of viral and then video games and last year it was gadgets in your shoes that connect to a Website. It's hard to imagine elevating that, but without a doubt, every year something comes around that surprises you.
WILL: I agree, not only has the scope of the categories expanded, but it really is a global show. To Jeff's point, you really don't know what to expect anymore. Five or six years ago you sort of did know what to expect, but it's expanded to such a global show that's across so many different mediums that I'm sure there's going to be a lot of amazing things that haven't even hit my radar.
JEFF: I like gettheglass.com. It's by this place in San Francisco.
Are there any new trends in interactive advertising that you expect to see at the Show?
WILL: We'll probably see a lot more mobile this year. I think we're on the cusp of a mobile explosion that's going to happen in the not too distant future. And I think we're going to see a lot more out-of-home as well. There's a certain amount of fatigue that's set in a little bit creatively when you think of interactive being just Websites and banners. People are continuing to look beyond that at new spaces. And integrated and social networking will play a role. With Nike+, that was an amazing experience for a lot of reasons, but one of the things that it did was illustrate that applications can be cool and inspirational, so I wonder if we won't see more interesting applications entries as well.
JEFF: You know, I can't speak for the industry, but one of the trends that I see with our clients is that we went through a phase where we had a lot of funny microsites and things like that, but now clients want to bring those types of things to their sites but they also want to do it in useful ways. Things like VW.com or corporate sites and applications like we talked about, I think they're expecting genius to be in those types of things as opposed to a funny microsite. For a few years now we haven't looked too hard at corporate sites and they haven't been a gold mine of creativity. I don't know if we'll see it this year, but I think in the next couple years you're going to see a lot more creativity in them. Clients want those corporate and main sites to work harder for them and they want genius and a lot of creativity in those places as well.
What about gaming? The Burger King games won big last year. Is this the new space for advertising?
JEFF: I think we saw a few games this year. I also think that as people make Websites, they're starting to think more about gaming principles as they come up with a creative solution. So they might not come up with a game—it might be a microsite or banner or whatever—but they'll bring in gaming principles like a person has to feel like they're winning for example. Gaming theory has become a bigger part of what we do.
WILL: I totally agree. So much thought and research has gone into the gaming category that there's a lot you can learn from these games and trying to pull people into the user experience. Not to mention that the gaming industry continues to explode and more and more people are playing without even realizing that they're being influenced by it.
JEFF: And kids that grew up on video games and not watching TV, they're becoming a bigger part of the economic market. So these car companies and electronics companies, that generation is buying stuff now. And in order to talk to them, you can't make TV spots—you have to talk to them in a way that they spend their time in and had fun in and continue to have fun in, and that's gaming. For a lot of people that's their Internet—they communicate and message through Xbox Live. So for advertisers to talk to these people, it's not just about making banners and microsites, it's about what can you do with this person that doesn't go on the Web and stays on Xbox.
[PULL QUOTE: So much thought and research has gone into the gaming category that there's a lot you can learn from these games and trying to pull people into the user experience.]
With all these interactive tools at our disposal, what have we learned that works and what doesn't work?
WILL: It still comes back to an interesting idea. People can ride the novelty of new technology innovations to some extent, and creative media is something that we're going to see a lot of where we redefine how we can speak to our consumers. Being innovative with technology isn't going to go away, but there's so much of it that the novelty tricks that carried concepts in the past just aren't going to cut it. You have to reach out and communicate in a smart way. When the Web first started, suddenly there was flash, and every decently designed flash site was amazing because it was so new. But everything's been done to some extent with the technology so nothing is that surprising anymore.
JEFF: Definitely something that doesn't work is when an advertiser throws technology at you when there's no idea there. And I think a lot of people out there seem to think that yeah, we'll just use cool technology and use layer after layer of innovation. And I think that when your idea gets lost, and when it stops feeling simple, it doesn't come across very well. There have been some really innovative things that we've seen as judges, but it never seems to work out for those pieces. At the end of the day, it has to have a great idea, and even if it's super-innovative, it has to be misleadingly simple. You know Nike+—very innovative, but at the end of the day when you take a step back, for whatever reason, it feels simple. You can explain it in one sentence. And those are the things that succeed.
WILL: That's a good point. Everything needs to be technologically accessible. The most complicated things if they're done right are made really simple. Like the iPhone, it's so simple and intuitive it's immediately accessible even though it's a really complex system. People don't have the patience to have to learn a complicated system every time they're on their lunch break surfing the Web.
Are we reaching a threshold where we're hitting the limitations of technology?
JEFF: I think you have to look at the context. In a place like Brazil where the Internet connection is really slow, they must get really aggravated by things like the IKEA site that was done in Sweden. But for somebody sitting in Sweden who has a much better Internet connection, I think that's ok. So I think you have to think about where it was made and who it's targeting.
I remember when BMW Films first came out, people were wondering whether this was going to work and if it was a good idea to make Web videos because not everyone had high-bandwidth connections. But at the end of the day, they were talking to people who would buy BMW cars, and these people probably had the best Internet connections, so I think that's ok.
What about things that go beyond just the computer screen? It seems to be the next trend where interactivity is moving to a real-world environment like Nike+.
WILL: The NextFest installation we've done in the past is an example of that. I think creatives are finally tuning into the fact that the world is essentially your canvas. You're no longer confined to a 30-second spot or microsite. That innovative spirit has been extended into traditional advertising and the idea that you can reach out to your consumers anywhere. And I feel like agencies are more tuned in to their clients' business and thinking about how people interact with their product in a retail environment, from trying things on in a dressing room to how things are displayed.
It's an exciting time in advertising right now because everyone's woken up to the fact that you can literally advertise anywhere. It doesn't mean that you should, but there's a world of possibilities out there.
JEFF: I think for a long time the interactive industry had this culture of, 'you can't do that.' And lately that paradigm of ‘you can't do that' has shifted to ‘you can do anything,' and that's made it more fun for clients and definitely made more opportunities for them. And likewise it's made it more fun for creatives. Fun has made its way back into the Internet. We've had a second renaissance on the Web because that culture has changed.
WILL: It's funny but it's also gotten to the point where you get a lot of creatives that are so divorced from reality. I get so many awesome ideas that are just so outside of the scope of reality when you get down to things like budget. It's a weird thing to rectify because you don't ever want to discourage that kind of thinking, but it's also important to have people who embrace that spirit but still work within the confines of reality.
Do you think that all creatives will have to start thinking in both technical and creative terms?
JEFF: I think you'll find that not just the creative directors but the people that run the shop have to start thinking that way. One of the reasons we've had success digitally is that Alex [Bogusky] loves interactive, it's his favorite thing. I'll come in and we'll brainstorm and he just lights up in a way that he doesn't with television and print. I think if you are young, you would probably be an interactive creative director. And I remember while working at Goodby, Rich [Silverstein] was the same way. One of the reasons why Goodby is so successful is because Jeff and Rich embrace it and they love it and they have to be good at it and have to make everyone at that agency good at it. You always read stories, and I don't know if it's true or not, but they once told a creative that you have to do interactive and if you don't, you should find another job.
WILL: Yeah, it has to start at the top, that's essential. It all kind of filters down, you have to be progressive and moving forward and you have to have creative leadership that not only embraces it but is excited by it.
Jeff, with the new Whopper Freakout campaign, what is new angle you're taking with that client? Is it an integrated campaign?
JEFF: It's funny but we were talking recently about what category that would fit into. We were thinking maybe it's an integrated campaign but we decided it wasn't. What was fun about that was just the idea of taking the Whopper off the menu and seeing what would happen. When you take that campaign apart and you say, ok, here's what the TV was, and here's what the Website was, and here's what the banner was, it sort of became the same thing over and over again and didn't feel like an integrated campaign. And I think what makes that campaign work even if it's not an integrated campaign beyond just being good TV or good Web is that it's also an innovative and fun idea.
Final question: what is interactive advertising?
WILL: That's for you Jeff.
JEFF: I was just thinking, that's for you, Will. I think it doesn't matter what we say now because by the time the One Show happens, it will be something else.
CORRECTION: In the magazine article "Mining Digital," Jeff Benjamin is quoted as saying "barely innovative" when it should be "very innovative." We apologize for the error.